The Northern Rivers NSW Australia

A Place to Hang My Hat

by Robert Maddox-Harle

This photo essay celebrates the place I call home, the Northern Rivers area of NSW Australia. This district is a large regional area which extends from Grafton in the south, to Murwillumbah in the north, out west to Tabulam, and eastward to the infamous, Byron Bay. Cape Byron is the eastern-most edge of the large Australian continent. Mt Warning (Wollumbin) near Murwillumbah enjoys the first rays of the rising sun each day, and was so named by Captain (then Lieutenant) James Cook when he sailed down the east coast of the great south land on his voyage of discovery in 1770. Wollumbin, the correct indigenous name of this mountain is the central volcanic “plug” of a long extinct volcano, when this erupted for the last time it formed the Caldera, gouging out the valleys and river beds as the lava made its way to the sea.

Wollumbin  (Mt Warning) warmed by the sun’s first rays. Photo courtesy Gold Coast Bulletin

The major rivers start with the Tweed in the north, then the Brunswick, further southwards the Richmond and Wilsons rivers, Evans river, then the mighty Clarence and further downstate to the Bellinger river. The Clarence River is the largest river in the region having its headwaters in the wild hilly country west of Tabulam and reaching the sea at Yamba/Iluka.

 Robert navigating down the Tweed River

Iluka is a special place for me (and clearly many others) and becomes the main emphasis in this essay, it means “place by the sea” in Bundjalung language, these are the local indigenous people. I have spent a lot of time at Iluka over the years, but presently reside in Lismore after moving from Nimbin where I lived for thirty years. Nimbin is considered the centre of the Rainbow Region and an important part of the Big River country.

Lismore is irreverently referred to by some as the “underwater city of the north” due to massive flooding which occurs far more frequently than locals would like. The whole area has very high rainfall and massive catchment areas which feed into these various rivers consequently causing disastrous flooding. The rivers were the connecting life lines in the early days of white (British) settlement, using these rivers. made it easier to transport the precious logs, especially Red Cedar, off to the larger capital cities. The demand for these timbers made it easy for the arrogant British mentality to destroy the unique forests and rainforests of the area, known as the Big Scrub.

Recent (2017) flooding in the CBD of Lismore, this block of home units is nearly one kilometre from the river, photo courtesy Heinz Riedel

Iluka is flanked on the eastern side by a unique nature reserve which is a littoral rainforest, one of very few remaining in the southern hemisphere. This reserve is home to numerous species of wildlife, unique to Australia, including the extremely rare coastal emu. To the south-western side the Clarence flows into the sea, across the river is the port and town of Yamba.

Looking out to sea from the Iluka breakwall beside the Clarence River.

Iluka, southeast of Lismore, is somewhat isolated which has kept the population and built environment very small, part of its charm! It is home to the Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-operative which is now small compared with the past, but still sees trawlers heading out to sea and up-estuary to catch fish, and especially prawns. Most of these rivers are clean and unpolluted, especially  by world standards, so the seafood quality is excellent. Iluka has a special kind of magic which I hope the following images help convey.

Safe anchorage in front of the Fisherman’s Co-operative

As mentioned Iluka, and the northern rivers is home to a huge variety of wildlife, many on the border of extinction, such as Australia’s unique Koala. The natural beauty of the area together with its wildlife far surpasses the built environment which like much of Australian building, especially housing, is very ordinary indeed, derisively called “the great Australian ugliness.”

Three Tawny Frogmouth owls trying to look like the gum tree, photo courtesy of Heinz Riedel

High from harms way an Osprey guards her young, keeping a vigilant eye

A Sacred Ibis meditating, no, waiting for some of my lunch.

Clarence River with the ferry and boatshed wharf. The ferry goes across to Yamba
saving a forty five minute drive around.

Iluka mermaid, created by a friend of mine looking out sea

The Mermaid

Keeping her lone vigil
the enigmatic Iluka mermaid waits,
arm raised shielding her moist eyes,
the setting sun glistens
dancing across the mirror-glass water.

Her ancient ancestor Atargatis,
great Syrian goddess
not to blame really
though the legend remains.

The trawlers head seaward,
wave to their protectress
crucial for a safe return
no guarantees in this work,
the sea is a cruel mistress
but the spiritual connection remains.

Ploughing through the plankton-green sea
engine humming a tinnitus tune
a perfect beat,
a heartbeat for the fishermen,
the dark of night nudges in.

The Iluka mermaid breathes easily again,
the trawlers return
the sun pushing them in,
a gentle bow wave slides across the bay.

Her eyes are dry,
now she settles in for the day.

Sandra learning to be a mermaid who keeps constant vigil waiting for the fishermen’s
safe return

Some of the trawler fleet which works out of Iluka each day. Iluka has a very safe bar,
which allows more regular access to the Blue Waters of the ocean than many of the other bars up and down the coast.

“Notorious” replica of a 16th century Caravel resting in Iluka Bay hand built by her owner from recycled timbers


Hove To “Notorious”!
had I slipped through a time warp?
I felt uneasy, anxious;
the black Caravel lay at anchor
circa sixteenth century
gently circling the tide.

This was Iluka Bay
circa twenty first century;
I stood wide-eyed
as if a lost ghost had materialised,
past lives flashed before me.

Ten years in the crafting,
built from recycled timber
by a man and his wife,
gallons of tar to seal her hull
gallons of rum to whet their souls;
sailed from Melbourne
across an oily ancient sea
resting at peace in Iluka Bay.

Another ration of rum I order
fixated on a Black Pearl,
I’m marooned at Sedgers Reef pub,
“Notorious” taunts me;
my mind spinning with questions
my heart revealing secrets,
I’d sailed these ships before
many centuries ago!

Metaphorically the speed of 21st century life at Iluka

NB: All photos other than those credited were taken by myself.

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